Historians and Families Forever Battle Over Molding Marble Legacies
by Jim W. Dean, VT editor…featuring Gregg Clemmer
Confederate descendants have long dealt with the misperception that their main goal motivation for honoring their ancestors is to create a facade to hide their guilt behind.
Guilt tripping is a tried and true manipulation tactic, and one not practiced by nice people, but of the ruder more devious element. Their motivation is generally a political hustle.
Gregg Clemmer’s article below features three examples of a more personal nature, the struggle between families and historians, Lee, LBJ and MJk. To reveal, or not to reveal…that is the devil they deal with, not the smearmiesters that torment Confederates.
Our charge, the SCV, is to protect the good name of the Confederate soldier, honored in literally all the military academies of the world. And we do that by revealing to our American family what many relatives prefer that we not, the information that has generally been withheld because it conflicts with the propaganda story. If we have learned anything since 911, this should surprise no one.
Yet Confederates face Civil War propagandists similar to those that would claim the 911 commission report is the true story on the event and all those who disagree are just America haters. The War Between the States has a many parallels with 911…the staging, the attack, and post event. And if there is any group of readers that can grasp this, it is Veterans Today’s. I will be stepping through this in future articles.
I picked Gregg Clemmer’s article for today’s Sesquicentennial series piece because it was a great example of the universal struggle by competing forces to mold history to their vision of the truth, or the one they prefer. The concept of reconciliation is often a major casualty here.
The Centennial Civil War celebration, to use that word, was an intended celebration of reconciliation by national leaders. But various and competing political and social agendas turned the event into a minefield of sorts. Confederate bashing had not come into vogue yet during the Centennial. Back then…
Many black folks were Lincoln Republicans. And southern Democrats so loved to vote that even the dead showed up on election day. South bashing was not considered a political benefit by either party at the time.
What today’s South bashers miscalculated was family pride in the South. I do not say that all have it. Martin Luther King’s children are examples of ‘pride impaired’ legacies, and they do not walk alone.
To malign a person’s family is still a major insult in the South, and those who do it are not considered enlightened superiors, but quite the contrary. In fact, you can get killed doing this in some parts down here where it is considered a form of suicide.
The word Yankee, the derogatory version of it used in the South, is not really a smear word, but simply a descriptive one of such a person. It is a term that is earned by the recipients through their behavior. Being from ‘up North’ is another planet compared a with ‘Yankee’.
American, Confederate and family pride are all closely entwined. Countries, peoples and families all have their crown jewels and family secrets. Guests are not entertained in the basement but the living room. And it is remains impolite to ask if someone still uses an outhouse.
When American tourists visit European historic battlefields they do not find slavery exhibits or fake gas chambers.
In Rome there are no marches for slavery reparations or sit in fundraisers at the Coliseum. Liberal Italians don’t demand their tourist business be closed down for glorifying Roman slavery. That political guilt trip is an American creation.
When Americans visit the Tower of London and tour all the room displays and instruments of torture, they are not handed leaflets on the street on support for victim reparations.
When I lived in Barbados where citizens were 96% black, the concept of reparations was beyond the pale.
Why the repetitive mentions of slavery you ask? It is because we already know that some are planning to carjack the 150th to run their slavery guilt trip machine for five years in the Sesqui storefront window. By the way, I fully support freeing all the remaining slaves here.
Native Hawaiians do not hold a day of remembrance for their years of genocidingtheir neighbors, dispatched by the ancestors of the current natives.
American Indians do not mourn their recorded history of slaughtering their neighbors, enslaving the children (if they were lucky) or torturing them to death using methods which could not even be put into print at the time.
It is my wish, and maybe a naive one, that maybe the Sesquicentennial can be put to good use putting the guilt tripping implements of torture away. Such things do not bring us together, but just the opposite, which makes one wonder.
I caught an Al Jazeera TV show recently about the Congo being the rape capitol of the world now, with the number 50,000 annually thrown out. It has been getting steady coverage even though nobody has a clue as to a solution.
But the black on white rape epidemic here in American, about 35,000 a year and holding steady, the media will not cover. It seems they don’t like the image that would represent, that maybe there is something wrong here in paradise, like it’s possibly being the interracial rape capitol of the world. Once again, they are dismissive.
We all face life changing threats on the near horizon and we might be better served keeping our eye on the livelihood ball. But someone else, or some other group, might prefer something else…a distraction. Do they desire reconciliation, or division? Which empowers them more and which does not? I will leave it to you to guess why. And if you do…you will understand why I wrote this today.
You can catch all the past Sesquicentennial articles here. Just look for the Sesqui logo.
Jim W. Dean, VT editor & Heritage TV, Atlanta
The Lee family archive: When does privacy trump scholarly access?
A recent a article on the reticence/refusal of descendants of Alexandria’s General R. E. Lee to release all of their famous ancestor’s family papers, including intimate correspondence between him and his wife – is hardly unique.
Quoting a Lee letter from precisely 150 years ago, author Glenn W. Lafantasie demonstrates how the general’s youngest son edited mundane family matters from the July 31, 1861 letter for the sake of martial clarity when he published his book, Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee in 1904. [Jim Dean note: Click for free pdf download from New York Public Library and courtesy of a Microsoft grant…got mine last night.]
But Lafantasie goes on to cite other members of the Lee family in more recent years with over protection sometimes bordering on rudeness, zealously holding back private, unseen and certainly unpublished family papers.
This was done at the expense of historical accuracy, relevance, and especially scholarly insight into this most iconic of American historical figures. Whether you buy into this kind of criticism or not, we continue to see family “interference” in famous relatives’ records and legacies to this very day.
A typical example in recent years is the experience of two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Caro while researching volume one of his planned four volume biography of Lyndon Johnson in which, in stunning scholarship, he proves that LBJ stole the 1948 Texas senatorial election. (Three volumes are currently in print.) According to Caro:
Lady Bird Johnson prepared carefully for our nine interviews, reading her diaries for the years involved, so that she could provide a month by month, detailed description of the Johnsons’ life….The interviews were less valuable in regard to her husband’s political life. …Once, when I asked if she had been present at various political strategy sessions, she replied, ‘Well, I didn’t always want to be a part of everything, because I was never… I elected to be out a lot. I wasn’t confident in that field. I didn’t want to be a party to absolutely everything.’
Although from the first I made it clear to Mrs. Johnson that I would conduct my own independent research into anything I was told by anyone, for some time she very helpfully advised members of the semi-official ‘Johnson Circle’ in Texas that she would have no objection if they talked with me. At a certain point, however—sometime after the interviews with Mrs. Johnson had been completed—that cooperation abruptly and totally ceased.
More egregious are the recent circumstances surrounding the release of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers for public and scholarly examination at the Robert W. Woodruff Library in Atlanta.
For decades King’s widow, Coretta Scott King refused access to her late husband’s papers, notes, sermons, etc.
As with Lee, the rumor mill speculated on a world of reasons, in this case everything from residual grief, respect, and family privacy … to MLK’s financial records, government investigations, and allegations of infidelity.
But with the King family, it ultimately came down to money. Upon the death of Coretta Scott King in January 2006, her children–ignoring the opportunity to gift the papers to Morehouse College, their father’s alma mater—decided to auction everything at Sotheby’s.
Only a frantic Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and former Mayor Andrew Young’s last-minute appeals and fund-raiser prevented this academic disaster.
“I mean, there is no way to know where the papers would have ended up,” Franklin said. “They could have been in a private collection, not available for public view…We raised $32 million in a little less than two weeks.”
As a result, Sotheby’s, in an unusual move, withdrew the collection from auction to facilitate the sale.
Since that time, the King children continue to chase dollars, suing Harry Bellafonte in late 2008 for trying to auction at Sotheby’s other King documents–including MLK’s first draft of his opposition to the Vietnam war–the singer insisted were personally given to him by MLK.
He is working to find time now to database his extensive video archive of Americana and interviews filmed during his public TV days so individual topic segments can be key word searched to quickly use in future multi-media projects.
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